By Roz Friedman

The Set Design and Lighting are very exciting in the Yale Rep’s production of Ibsen’s The Master Builder.  Timothy Brown, the Scenic Designer, is a name to remember. He is a third-year MFA candidate at Yale School of Drama and the resident designer for Miami’s Fresco Productions. His unique design here is the house of Halvard Solness, an architect referred to as the Master Builder. Its modern bright white expanse is Halvard’s second floor studio, inhabited by his workers: Knut Brovik, his son, Ragnar, and Kaja Fosli, a young woman of 20, Ragnar’s fiancée.  Downstairs is the home level, dotted with objects like books and plants suspended in the air on dark thick beams. The sky is painted beautifully with dramatic colors by Paul Whitaker.  

 The cast, Costumed erratically by Katherine Akiko Day, is led by Halvard,  played by David Chandler, who, although he does not list it in his credits, played the lead in Alan Knee’s award-winning Syncopation at Long Wharf in 2000. Chandler’s challenges are great, for he must portray am egoist, a manipulator, a womanizer, and a man who wants things his way at all time. There’s not much to like about this character. In the first scene, when the dying Knut (Robert Hogan) asks him to give his son, Ragnar (Slate Homgren), a chance to design something on his own, he refuses.  It is a brutal scene. He leads Kaja (Irene Sofia Lucio) on because he wants to keep Ragnar there. He and his wife, Aline, dressed in a black gown looking as if she were going to a formal dance instead of suffering from greiving, acted with agonized elegance by Felicity Jones, have experienced tragedy: the death of twin infants and a fire that destroyed their home. Their friend, Doctor Herdal---Ibsen and Chekhov always seem to have a doctor hanging around the house---is portrayed with warmth by Bill Buell.  
 Into this strange household comes Hilda, a young woman who was a student…maybe. She is wearing a strange outfit.  While Susan Heyward—spelled HEYWARD---not Hayward, like the late movie star, is young and puts a lot of energy into her role, she seems miscast. Hilda and Halvard talk on and on and on about thoughts that are projected from one person to another, to age and dying, to whether he will be remembered by the young, and to climbing a tower.  In the end Hilda leads him into temptation. He is killed climbing the tower. 

Despite these salient and what could be dramatic points, the play is a terrible bore.
The Master Builder, written in 1892 a few years after A Doll’s House, a fascinating work, is Directed by Evan Yionoulis, who has not made any attempt at making the conversation interesting. I cannot judge whether the new translation by Paul Walsh is any better than the old. It appears to be clear and contemporary. But then again I always liked Ibsen and his words just the way they were. 
The Master Builder will play at Yale through October 10.

This review originally aired on WMNR 88.1fm Fine Arts Public Radio


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